Teacher union protesters surrounded the vehicle of Education Minister Stephen Lecce Wednesday as he attempted to leave a public school where he announced new anti-bullying measures.
Lecce, who had been criticized for not visiting a public school during a tense period in negotiations with teacher unions, was able to leave after the vehicle slowly moved through the shouting and placard-waving crowd at Ogden Junior Public School on Phoebe St. in Toronto.
NDP MPP Marit Stiles accused Lecce of “using our children as pawns” for appearing at a public school for an anti-bullying announcement that included no new funding.
“I think that the protesters that were there today came out to share their opinion with the minister of education,” Stiles said when asked about the protesters’ actions. “The minister chose to go to one of the schools today in the middle of a work action — that was his choice.”
Teachers and education workers represented by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (OSSTF) are in their second day of a job action where some services have been withdrawn.
Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter, who also faced some tense situations as the former minister of education, said the tone set by Lecce and Premier Doug Ford has been “less than collaborative” when working with education partners.
“So I’m not surprised that there is the escalation of issues that are happening as a result of the (job action) that is underway,” Hunter said. “We know that teachers are out trying to inform parents and the public in terms of their position … My response was always to speak to people and to be collaborative, not to run away from the issue.”
The surrounding of the minister’s car occurred as his vehicle attempted to leave the school grounds.
Some protesters were wearing ETFO-branded clothing, but the union declined to comment on the incident.
Lecce was at Ogden Junior to announce a number of steps his government is taking to address school bullying: Appointing Scarborough Centre MPP and former teacher Christina Mitas as a special adviser to the minister on bullying; a provincewide survey to assess students’ experiences with bullying; a review of school reporting on bullying; and an updating of the definition of bullying in ministry policies.
He also announced new training for educators in anti-bullying and de-escalation techniques.
Lecce said the Education Ministry is determined to learn from tragic incidents of bullying, including those that led to suicide.
“We’re going to be looking — Christina and my team — at how we can improve the safety of children so that there’s no more examples, that’s there no more victims,” he said.
He said he does believe that educators are taking the issue of bullying seriously but it’s so pervasive, online and elsewhere, that everyone has to be more aggressive in countering its damaging effect.